On the News With Thom Hartmann: Walmart Is Using the Court System to Silence Protesters, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Walmart is using the court system to silence protesters; a Senate Committee advanced bipartisan legislation to create a federal licensing program for insurance agents; Republicans voted to resume the deportation of undocumented immigrants that were brought to this country as children; and more.


Thom Hartmann here – on the news…

You need to know this. Yesterday, we learned that our government has been spying on cell phone records. And, last night we found out that the National Security Agency and the FBI are mining data on the servers of at least nine major technology companies. Under a top-secret program, known as PRISM, our government has been collecting audio, video, e-mail, and more from companies like Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Skype, and Apple. Data analysts at Fort Meade claim that they designed search criteria that produce “at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s ‘foreignness.’” According to The Think Progress Blog, analysts have access to Facebook’s “surveillance capabilities,” and they can monitor any combination of “audio, video, chat, and file transfer” conducted via Skype. Allegedly, Google also allows the monitoring of “Gmail, voice and video chat, photo libraries, and live surveillance of search terms.” The intelligence officer who leaked the information to The Washington Post said, “they quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type.” Both Apple and Facebook have denied participation in the program, and Google has insisted they do not have a so-called “back door” that would give the government access to such information. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has called the disclosure of the internet surveillance program “reprehensible.” He also said that the document leak revealing the cell-phone monitoring program is a threat to our national security. Mr. Clapper claimed that neither of these programs may be “used to intentionally target any U.S. Citizen,” and insisted the programs are “entirely legal.” Just because a secret FISA court declared these programs legal, does not mean they’re constitutional. Americans are angry, and they are demanding our government put an end to the invasive process of spying on citizens.

In screwed news… Walmart is using the court system to silence protesters. Labor activists from across our country are converging on Walmart’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, but protesters will not be permitted on the company’s property. Thanks to a restraining order signed by Benton County Judge John Scott, labor groups and non-employee protesters are prohibited from joining the picket lines with striking workers. Erin Johansson, research director for American Rights At Work, said, “We’ve covered a lot of companies who have tried to silence their employees when standing up, and I’ve never seen them go after community leaders this way.” A Walmart spokesperson claimed the company filed the restraining order to stand up for the rights of associates and customers, who may be frightened by protesters. Labor groups will abide by the restraining order, by holding the main event at The University of Arkansas, which is not covered under the court ruling.

In the best of the rest of the news…

On Thursday, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee advanced bipartisan legislation to create a federal licensing program for insurance agents. The program would essentially deregulate the current state-by-state licensing system, but Senator Elizabeth Warren slipped in an amendment to help protect consumer in the process. Consumer advocates worry that the licensing bill will lower qualification requirements set by individual states. They say that rather than serving as a minimum level of experience, the bill creates a low ceiling on qualifications. However, Senator Warren’s amendment seeks to address this problem, and requires anyone who serves on the new licensing board to have “demonstrated expertise” in life, health or property insurance. Senator Warren has been known for fighting the banking industry to protect consumers, and this amendment shows she’ll take that fight to any industry to protect American consumers.

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives wants to go back to deporting the Dreamers. In a party-line vote on Thursday, Republicans voted to resume the deportation of undocumented immigrants that were brought to this country as children. Met with a chorus of “boos” from the gallery, the vote was largely symbolic, because the legislation requires Senate approval, and President Obama has already threatened a veto. The House vote occurred at the very same time Senate leaders were scheduling debate on the so-called comprehensive immigration bill. White House official Cecilia Munoz said, “If part of what is driving this debate is recognition, particularly on the Republican side, that they need to do better with the Latino community, this is really not the right way.”

Last month, American employers added 175,000 jobs to the economy, however the unemployment rate still ticked up to 7.6 percent, from April’s 7.5 percent. The Labor Department report was a mix of both good and bad news. One reason for the unemployment rate’s rise was that more people entered the job market, which could be a sign that some out-of-work Americans finally feel like they have a chance at finding a job. The Republican sequester was also a factor in the rate increase, as 14,000 government workers were laid off due to the GOP austerity measures that went in to effect in March. According to the New York Times, average monthly job growth has been fairly constant over the last year, but at its current rate, it would take nearly five years to get back to pre-recession employment levels. Many Americans are still out of work, and are calling on the government to create jobs through investments and infrastructure. Having the government step forward as the employer of last resort worked in the 1930’s, and it would work again today.

And finally… A mayoral candidate in Cincinnati, Ohio sent out a news release that he’d be handing out ‘free marijuana plants’ in an effort to promote his pro-pot platform. Libertarian canidate Jim Berns held his event at a busy intersection in the city to draw attention to his effort to “re-legalize marijuana.” He was joined by about 30 supporters, who took home the plants… only to find that they weren’t pot plants after all. According to Cincinnati.com, Mr. Berns handed out tomato plants instead, saying, he just “wanted to bring attention to the fact that marijuana should be re-legalized.” No word yet from people who took home the plants on whether or not they are still supporters.

And that’s the way it is today – Friday, June 7, 2013. I’m Thom Hartmann – on the news.